Another round of layoffs is in the works for the Washington state Employment Security Department, which added staff to handle surges of unemployment insurance claims during the worst of the Great Recession and has been cutting ever since. The agency now has another 300 to 400 more job cuts to go, agency spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said Monday.
“We had planned to lay off about 300 at the end of June or early July,” Hutchison said, citing the impact of shrinking jobless rates and smaller allocations from the federal government. “Now we’re looking at about 400 in May. The good news is we’ve been holding positions (vacant) for a while. … That means about 260” will be lay offs.
The cuts happen to coincide with federal “sequestration” cuts that Congress and President Obama were unable to avert Friday. But Hutchison said these cuts are unrelated to those pending cuts. Instead they are the result of ongoing efforts to reduce ESD budgets by 16 percent in the current biennium and 16 percent again in the next one – with some of the ongoing reductions spurred by the agency running out of one-time federal allocations during the recession that were used to pay for administrative costs and a pending computer-system upgrade.
Gov. Jay Inslee appointed new commissioner Dale Peinecke in January to take over the agency. Soon after Peinecke called for a broader look at the level of agency staffing that would be sustainable for a longer period.
“We’re aiming for mid-May for the first round and later in May for a smaller round,’’ Hutchison said. “We’ve told staff generally the depth and the timing. We’re in the process of deciding which functions and positions will be affected by it. Those first rounds of letters (required under collective bargaining) should be coming out in the next two or three weeks.’’
The agency has had three rounds of cuts in the past year and a half – shrinking worker headcounts from about 2,700 to about 2,000 today. Once the next round is completed, Hutchison estimated the agency is going to employ about 1,600 to 1,700 workers. “We’re going to actually end up smaller than we were before the recession,” she added.
“There’s a lot of stress. People are certainly looking for other jobs where they can,’’ Hutchison added. Under work rules that govern most agencies, there is a “bumping” that results in workers with less tenure getting knocked out of jobs by those with more seniority whose positions are actually cut. That means once jobs are identified for cuts, it could take a while to determine who actually loses a job.
“We’ve told staff generally the depth and the timing. We’re in the process of deciding which functions and positions will be affected by it. Those first rounds of letters (required under collective bargaining) should be coming out in the next two or three weeks.’’
The impact of the sequestration cuts is still being worked out. The agency may lose several million dollars in federal funding, but Employment Security is still waiting for instructions from the federal Department of Labor on how the state is supposed to put the cuts into effect.
This post was updated.